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PoW Mentoring Tips

A major benefit of having students submit answers to the PoWs online is that teachers can provide individual feedback (including optional rubric scores) through the PoW software. [Ed. note: As of 2011, every teacher membership includes logins for up to 36 students, so all PoW members, no matter what level, can take advantage of online submission to the Current PoWs]. But providing individual feedback to all your students is no easy task! This month, we’ll share three more time-saving techniques that other teachers use so that students get feedback and revise, but that do not require writing back to every individual.

But what if it didn’t take writing back to each student, every week, for them to still get lots of value out of your feedback?

Students submit in groups

Group submissions can be logistically complicated, but PoW teachers have found several ways to make this happen. The key is to provide time for students to work together, which usually means devoting class time to students solving PoWs (unless you’re lucky enough to work in a boarding school or other situation in which students have structured time available for group study outside of class).

One way to manage group submission is to have students using computers during class. They work as a group to solve the problem and co-craft their submission. Rotating typist duties helps prevent one student from typing while others tune out.

Another option, when students have access to computers outside of class, is to have one student take responsibility for typing up the group’s work after class. This works best when the same group of students will work together for several PoWs, so that this extra job can be rotated through the group fairly.

A final option, one that puts the most individual responsibility on students, is to require that each student submits their work individually, but you only give feedback on one (randomly selected) student per group.

No matter which method you use, it is very beneficial to students to read your feedback as a group and have time as a group to discuss your feedback, do more math, and come up with a revision of their work. Again, revisions can be submitted by the group typing together, by one student on behalf of the group, or by each individual in the group.

Students submit individually but receive feedback in groups

This method requires the teacher to read a lot of student submissions, but only to write a few pieces of feedback. Some PoW teachers have all of their students submit PoWs on their own, and then they read each submission and group students together based on their similarities.

For example, if the teacher is focused on communication, she might group students by their communication rubric scores, pick one student in each group to respond to, and have each group work together to read her feedback and revise that one student’s work.

Or if the teacher is focused on strategy, he might group students with similar approaches together, and have them work as a team to respond to his feedback to one “exemplar” student.

The advantage to this method is that all of the students work on their own at first to solve the problem, building a personal stake in the problem-solving process. The teacher gets a chance to see where all of his or her students are in their problem solving, but only needs to respond to a few typical responses.

One challenge is that not every student gets individualized feedback. However, the process of working in a group to respond to feedback can be very beneficial, especially for students who aren’t used to the revision process in math.

A small number of students submit individually every two weeks

A middle-school PoW teacher we know in Philadelphia does a lot of small-group work in stations. Since he has one computer in his classroom, he has made solving PoWs one of the stations that students participate in from time to time. When a student is assigned to the PoW station, she logs in and sees which PoW her teacher has assigned to her. She solves the PoW and types up her submission during her time at the PoW station. Her teacher writes feedback to her that night, and she will return to the PoW station again the next day to revise her work. The teacher assigns students to the PoW station when he needs more information about their understanding of a concept, when he wants to give them an extra challenge, or even when they just haven’t had time at the PoW station in a while.

One advantage to this method is that students get personalized feedback each time they solve a PoW. One disadvantage is that students only solve a few PoWs every term, not one every week or two.

A few more tips for when students work on PoWs together

Even if you plan to have students submitting in groups, we recommend making an individual login for each student. When students work in groups, they can indicate with whom they worked by clicking the “Add Classmates” button when they compose their answer.

Warn students that if their classmates also want to submit individually, they should not add them to their submission — once a student is a collaborator on someone else’s submission, they can’t start a new individual submission.

Happy mentoring,

Max, for the Problems of the Week